Moments after Holly Springs girls soccer goalie M.D. Atkins stopped Fuquay-Varina’s final penalty kick attempt to preserve the Golden Hawks’ upset victory, she found herself at the bottom of a dogpile.
But this wasn’t just any dogpile celebration. The Golden Hawks beat Fuquay-Varina after a 1-1 tie through 110 minutes of regulation and overtime and then a 2-1 margin in penalty kicks in their second-round match of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
First, Atkins’ teammates rushed from the sideline to engulf her. Then, the Holly Springs’ enthusiastic students section that sat together in a block rushed from the visitors’ stands onto the field to join the fun. Atkins eventually emerged from the bottom with tears of joy.
“The people in the crowd helped me keep my cool,” Atkins said. “The dogpile was a surreal moment. That was the best feeling you could ever ask for to be at the bottom of the dogpile.”
Penalty kicks in high school soccer are rare, but Holly Springs (11-8-4) and Fuquay-Varina (16-5-1) seemed destined for one after their two Southwest Wake Athletic Conference matches. They tied 0-0 (no PKs in the regular-season matches) and Fuquay won the second match 2-1.
In the playoffs, the teams were tied 1-1 after 80 minutes of regulation and then played two scoreless 10-minute overtime periods and two more scoreless five-minute golden goal overtimes. That set up the five penalty kicks with alternating turns.
Holly Springs’ first two players missed wide and hit the left post. Atkins recorded saves on Fuquay’s first two turns.
Holly Springs junior Ava Slovensky, who scored the regulation goal for a 1-0 first-half lead, went third and found the net when she faked left and scored to the right for a 1-0 PK lead. Fuquay’s third shot hit the right post.
Atkins came out of goal to take Holly Springs’ fourth turn, but her shot was saved by goalie Rachel Howard. Then Fuquay sophomore Abigail Burke beat Atkins to tie the match.
On the fifth and final turns, Golden Hawks junior Sydney Sizemore scored to the left side of the net. The match came down to Fuquay’s Megan Greene, who had scored her 27th goal of the year to tie the match with 3:40 left in regulation, and Atkins. The sophomore goalie made a diving save that set off the unique celebration.
“It means a lot to beat them,” Slovensky said. “They are a great team, great competitors and great sports. They put up a battle. If the penalty kicks had gone differently, I would have been OK losing to a quality team like that.”
Fuquay coach Nick Acosta kept his team on the field for a lengthy postgame huddle. Tears eventually turned to laughter as they recalled a special season despite the final loss.
“This group of girls last two years has been a very close family,” Acosta said. “I couldn’t have been more proud of them. We had four seniors and they’re all going to college – two of them (Megan Greene and Kelly Suggs) to play in college (at UNC Charlotte). This team gave everything they have. You couldn’t ask anything more of them.”